Home Is Where Love Resides

Recently I transferred the rocks from the grotto under one of our wisteria trellises to a raised planter that once housed a large, yellow mum. The idea was to move the rocks out of the line of fire when fall leaves drop and to a spot that would be easier on my knees during spring cleaning.

It turned out to be far more than that. As so often happens in my garden, the task took on special meaning for me – this time unexpectedly deep meaning.

The grotto rocks are not random stones. Some are river rocks from property we once owned on the slopes of Oregon’s Mt. Hood. Some are from our second honeymoon to Arizona. A few are souvenirs of a genealogy excursion to Montana. Some are cut stones handed down from my husband’s grandparents who were rockhounds. I could go on, but you get the idea. The stones mean something to us.

In their new location, I carefully arranged each rock to create a world where tiny gnomes could live in fairy houses and frolic in a petrified forest. A wrought iron hose horse we’ve never mounted became a bridge. An old piece of driftwood my mother brought from the Oregon Coast became the welcoming arch. A string of tiny lights twinkles across it at twilight.

I found joy in this warm-weather project for the same reason setting up my Christmas village makes me happy in winter. The original four buildings that anchor the Christmas village, the evergreen trees, and a set of porcelain carol singers belonged to my father-in-law who passed away in 1992. In the grotto outdoors and in the Christmas town, the building blocks hold memories of places and people I’ve loved.

It’s more than that, though. Creating these little towns allows me to build worlds where I have final say over what happens. In real life, we don’t have that control.

Serendipitously, at the same time I was building the fairy garden, the house my grandmother lived in from 1944 to 1979 came on the market in the Los Angeles harbor town of San Pedro. Even though it’s a tiny cottage far away from my children and grandchildren, if I could afford the asking price, I would be talking to the realtor.

It’s home to me.

I never actually lived with my grandmother, but I spent so much time there that I went to the school nearest her house instead of the one nearest mine. In the back room, I used a set of worn-out children’s blocks to build houses, furnished them with plastic beds and tables, and arranged little Disney figurines here and there. In the narrow living room, I watched cartoons and roller derby. In the kitchen, I watched my grandmother scoop bacon grease into a sizzling hot skillet, ate the eggs she fried, and spread strawberry jam too thick on my toast. The memories are so thick I could eat them, too.

When my grandmother died, I was 24 and had no control over what happened to the house. I was the second youngest of 25 first cousins, but more importantly, all 10 sets of our parents were alive and well and in charge of the situation. As might be expected in such a large family, the house was sold. I not only lost my grandmother. I felt like I lost my connection to home. It’s haunted me for decades and spurred an endless quest for a replacement.

Creating the grotto and fairy garden, thinking of the Christmas village, remembering the houses I made of old blocks, and learning that my grandmother’s house was on the market brought me to a conclusion – one that I hope will finally rid me of recurring nightmares about being lost in a city and not being able to find my way home.

Home is not a place you live. People die. Deeds change. Sometimes walls crumble and gardens go to seed. Families scatter. The only thing that endures, the only thing that doesn’t slip through your fingers, is the memory of love.

Lately I’ve been worried about what will happen to our house when my husband and I are gone. We’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life, and it’s the closest replacement to my grandmother’s home that I’m ever going to get. I imagine our children will decide to sell. The new owners will renovate and perhaps change the landscaping if they think our garden is too much work. My children and grandchildren will not have the joy of returning home, just as I could not return to my grandmother’s home. I wish with all my heart I could spare them that loss.

Today I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t really matter. As long as our family creates loving memories here, our legacy will endure and our children and grandchildren will always be able to return to this place in their thoughts.

Certainly, they may take some rocks from the grotto, transplant a rosebush into their own yards, and put some of our knick-knacks on display in their living rooms. But those things won’t matter if they don’t also associate the keepsakes with love.

Because here’s what I think could be the answer to my 40-year itch.

Home is not a place you live. Home is where love resides … even if its resting place is only in memory.



Putting Down Roots

Roots run deep. And there’s nothing like gardening to reinforce that age-old concept.

Take the task I was faced with this summer – removing a rather unremarkable bush that had been in decline for a few years.

It was hard labor. The bush was so entrenched that the drip line was hopelessly snared in a network of tangled branches. Even after I managed to wrangle the bush out of the ground, I literally spent hours extracting stray roots.

“Why doesn’t this dang thing want to let go?” I fumed as I swiped at the sweat running into my eyes. “Well, that’s a silly question. It’s the same reason you want to stay here until you die. It’s where you’ve put down roots.”

To be clear, my roots on this property are only 10 years deep. Plenty of people have connections to their homes that span decades longer. I envy them. One of my best friends lives in the house where she grew up. We met as teenagers about two months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I’ll let you do the math.

In contrast, I’ve lived in at least 25 houses and apartments in 12 towns in three states. The longest my parents stayed in one spot was five years. My current house in the high desert of Northern Nevada represents my personal best. I know because I recently passed that milestone, and it was a big deal for me. Prior to that, the record-holder was a little, blue house in Oregon where my children came of age.

The reasons my parents moved around, and the reasons I have moved here and there as an adult, are complicated and not particularly relevant to this story. What is relevant is that all the packing and unpacking over the years left a mark on me. I’m tired of moving and have become almost militant about never doing it again. I’ve put down roots, just like the trees and bushes in my garden, and somebody is going to have to work up a sweat to yank me out of here.

Why is that? Why do I say that we’d either have to go completely broke or win unimaginable millions in a lottery to pry me loose? What’s so special about this house?

Nothing really. Nothing except memories – of my mother who passed away in what is now my writing room, dogs that have crossed the bridge, wide-eyed grandchildren on Christmas morning, family dinners on Saturday nights, the pleasure of creating an extraordinary garden on a barren plot of sand.

Perhaps most compelling is this. Even though I don’t live in the house where I grew up and my children can’t visit theirs, I want my grandsons to have the strongest memories they can possibly have of a place where family dwelled. Where laughter was easy and love was shared. Where mistakes were sometimes made but forgiveness flowed. Where roses bloomed and roots ran deep. What could be a better legacy than that?

The Garden 2011
Spring 2011
The Garden 2018
Spring 2018

Listening: The Gold Standard

It wasn’t an accident that the first two posts in this series were about hearing my garden speak to me. If today’s entry was my last and only chance to impart what I’ve heard, it would be about the importance of listening. Far and away, it’s the number one thing I’ve learned out there among the roots and canes and blossoms and thorns.

It might seem that listening is an odd thing to do in a garden. The senses that draw us there, after all, are sight and smell. We want to behold the beauty of the landscape and inhale the fragrance radiating from the blossoms. We expect that all we will hear is the quiet.

Spring 2012Yet, it is deep in the quiet, with our hands in the dirt and our senses awake, that messages materialize in our minds. Metaphorically speaking, it’s like a science fiction story in which luminescent beings from other worlds communicate with awestruck earthlings through telepathy.

Or maybe it’s not metaphorical at all. Maybe it’s just one lovely, Godly creation mingling with another.

It’s funny, then, that the high insight about listening actually came before I even had a garden. It was my husband’s idea to carve out a portion of our backyard for roses, and it was my mother’s idea to plant many varieties. If I hadn’t listened to them 10 years ago, I might now have half a dozen yellow and ivory bushes tucked along the fence line. As it is, the yard is flush with 32 bushes producing blossoms of almost every color of the rainbow.

I’m hardly the first person in your life to tell you to listen. Your parents undoubtedly did because, of course, they knew best. Your teachers, your scoutmasters, your coaches all wanted you to listen, too. You grew up with it. You may have embraced it, but it’s also pretty likely that you rebelled against it at some point. I can only imagine the number of times in my youth that I thought or said, “I’m not listening to you,” and hungered for someone to listen to me instead.

Today I believe that, if meaningful communication is a marriage of listening and speaking, listening is by far the better half.

In business, government and communities, the best ideas are most often the result of people sharing their thoughts, listening to the perspective of others with a stake in the outcome, and blending the most promising concepts to solve problems.

In relationships, listening is the foundation that supports you through good times and bad. It’s the cornerstone of friendship. It’s the gold standard of parenthood. It’s the spark that keeps the flame burning between lovers.

I suppose it’s a bit of a paradox that I’m writing a blog that begs readers to listen to me while I extol the virtues of listening to others. Perhaps it’s a nod to my rebellious youth. Perhaps it’s something else. Next time I’m out among the flowers, I’ll see what the garden thinks.

There’s Nothing Better

cropped-pink-rose-with-water-droplets2.jpgRoses blooming in my garden often make it to my Facebook page, prompting friends to shower me with compliments about my green thumb. The response is flattering, but it makes me chuckle. If only they knew what a disaster I used to be.

Houseplants were the worst. I had such a bad reputation around the office that a couple of co-workers once marched up to my desk and took my last, withered something-or-other to their wing of the building to resuscitate it. Their parting words were, “You are not allowed to have plants anymore.”

Several years later, when I became a team manager, my staff proudly presented me with a rather large, hearty potted plant that they imagined would thrive in the sunlight streaming through the window in my office. A close friend and longtime colleague stopped in her tracks when she saw it. “Do they know you?” she asked.

Outdoor plants have fared better under my guardianship, but when I was a young wife and mother living in the Pacific Northwest my heart wasn’t really in it. It’s not that I let our yard go untended. I filled flower beds and pots with petunias and impatiens every spring, and I dutifully deadheaded the rhododendrons someone else had long ago planted along the side fence. I just didn’t have any interest in doing more than necessary.

My husband had the same mindset. Mow the lawn, trim the edges, pull the weeds. That was sufficient. We used to snicker quietly about our retired neighbor who seemingly spent all spring and summer pruning his roses and nurturing the rest of his well-manicured yard. “Doesn’t Mr. Peterson have anything better to do with his time?” we wondered.

More than 20 years later, I’m retired, and I understand. There isn’t anything better.

It didn’t actually take retiring for me to finally get it. The realization crept up on me over the 10 years we have spent in our current house in the high desert of Nevada. The backyard was nothing but sand when we moved in; now it’s an oasis of trees, pathways, shrubs and statuary. In the southwest corner is the rose garden where my efforts are happily rewarded with bursts of color from spring through fall.

It’s not only the flowers that make working in the yard worthwhile, however. Every time I get on my knees to weed and fertilize, every time I trim spent blooms or prune canes, I absorb a certain wisdom. Not just about gardening. About life. About writing. About myself. It’s as though the garden is a classroom, and the roses are my teachers.

My only regret as a born again gardener is that I didn’t get it when we lived next door to old Mr. Peterson. What a lovely thing it would have been to sit together with a glass of lemonade and swap stories from our gardens. What did he learn out there among his flowers? I can only wonder.